'Horns backfield duo make lasting memories

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   MOUNTAIN CITY-- Every school has moments in its football season that are just unforgettable.
   Two players on the Johnson County Longhorn football team that have had moments to remember are Aaron Payne and Daniel Dugger.
   The two very integral parts of the Longhorn backfield have enjoyed fine years and some precious memories.
   Payne enjoyed the thrill of a lifetime when he scored the winning touchdown over Unicoi County this season. A few weeks later against powerhouse Elizabethton, Payne ran an 88-yard kickoff return for a score.
   As for the score against Unicoi County, it was something that Payne will not forget.
   "That was probably one of the best games we've played all year," Payne said. "I definitely will remember it."
   Before the touchdown, Payne thought he needed a little extra help in trying to make something happen.
   Payne turned to God, and He delivered.
   "I just looked up to God in the sky and asked Him to help us," Payne said. "I just tried to get Him to help us out, because we needed it."
   The score against Elizabethton put it in perspective that this is a team game. On the touchdown, he gave all the credit to his teammates.
   "I can't explain it," Payne said. "It just happened. One of my best friends on the kickoff team helped me all the way through. I didn't slow down or anything, because I thought they were on my tail. That was a great feeling.
   "I was really shocked. That was probably the best I have felt in a long time. I was definitely shocked. I think a lot of people were."
   Even though Payne is happy with all the special moments as a running back and linebacker, the season has still put a sour taste in his mouth.
   The Longhorns are 1-8 coming into Friday night's season finale with Sullivan South. Due to that, Payne does not consider this a successful season.
   "I've worked hard and everything has fallen into the place, but I'm disappointed in my season," Payne said. "I don't credit myself for anything I did. I feel like there's more I could have done."
   Payne shows what a team player is all about. With his final game as a Longhorn fast approaching, Payne cherishes the friendships he has made with his teammates.
   "I've been through a lot with these boys," Payne said. "I would do anything for them, and they would probably do anything for me."
   Dugger also had the highlight of his career earlier this year. Against Daniel Boone, the senior tailback rushed for 122 yards and scored two touchdowns.
   That was Dugger's first start of the season, and he took advantage of it.
   "We hadn't gained many yards going in," Dugger said. "I felt like I had to do the best I could."
   Like Payne, Dugger credited his teammates for the successful night.
   "I didn't realize how many yards I had," Dugger said. "It was just good blocking. I hit the holes hard, and I just went."
   Dugger didn't celebrate his great night. Johnson County lost the game, so it didn't mean as much to him.
   "It would have meant a lot more if we had won," Dugger said. "We had some bad breaks, and we couldn't capitalize on two-point conversions. That pretty much cost us the game."
   Dugger didn't see much time early on in the season, but he just waited his turn. Dugger kept working hard until the opportunity opened up.
   Dugger wanted to make the most of his chance.
   "I was getting two or three plays a game," Dugger said. "Standing over there, and not being able to do anything was pretty frustrating."
   Dugger has had some special moments in life other than in football. Dugger is a very successful bull-rider, and it's something he really enjoys.
   "I started riding bulls my eighth-grade year, and I just stuck with it," Dugger said. "People say football is tough, try putting a 150 pound man on a 2,000 pound animal, and football doesn't seem as tough in a way. I like things with contact, and I like rough sports you might say.
   As for Payne, his future memories will most likely come by serving his country in the United States Army.
   "I've already joined the reserves," Payne said. "I'm going to attend AIT school over the summer. In the fall I'm going into active duty for a while."
   Payne said that the events that happened on Sept. 11, 2001 played a big role in his decision. He also wanted to do it for his parents, Greg and Wanda Payne.
   "It really made me mad," Payne said. "Whenever I saw the news last September, I thought about it. The next thing I knew, I was talking to a recruiter. I was a little scared about it, but I knew I had to. I wanted to give back to my parents. They've been good to me."